1969 White Paper

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The 1969 White Paper (officially entitled Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian policy) was a Canadian policy paper proposal made in 1969 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien. The White Paper would abolish the Indian Act, which the federal government viewed as discriminatory, dismantling the special legal relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state in favour of equality, in accordance with Trudeau's vision of a "just society". The federal government proposed that by eliminating "Indian" as a distinct legal status, the resulting equality among all Canadians would help resolve the problems faced by Aboriginal peoples. After opposition from many Aboriginal leaders, the white paper was abandoned in 1970.


After the intense public attention given to the African-American Civil Rights Movement by the early 1960s, the Canadian federal government could no longer ignore the serious socio-economic problems faced by the Canadian Aboriginal population such as higher than average rates of infant mortality and poverty.[1]

In 1963, the Canadian federal government commissioned University of British Columbia anthropologist Harry B. Hawthorn to investigate the socio-economic situation of the Aboriginal population.[1] In 1966, he published his report, A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies.[1] The report concluded that Canada's Aboriginal peoples were the most marginalized and disadvantaged group among the Canadian public. It called them "citizens minus."[1] Hawthorne blamed years of bad government policy, especially the Indian residential school system, which failed to provide students with the necessary skills to do well in the modern economy.[1] Hawthorne proposed that all forced assimilation programs such as the residential schools should be abolished and that Aboriginal peoples should be seen as "citizens plus" and given the opportunities and resources for self-determination.[1]

After the publication of Hawthorn's report, Jean Chrétien, the Minister of Indian Affairs, set out to amend the Indian Act.[1] The federal government issued an information booklet titled Choosing a Path and consulted Aboriginal communities across Canada in pursuit of an amendment to the Indian Act.[1] A nationwide meeting of regional Aboriginal leaders was held in Ottawa in May 1969, and concerns over Aboriginal and treaty rights, land title, self-determination, education and health care were raised.[1] After the consultations, the federal government released the White Paper in June 1969.[1]


The main provision of the White Paper was to eliminate Indian status as a distinct legal status for Aboriginal people, which the federal government envisioned as a step to achieving equality among all Canadians, by regarding Aboriginals as equal citizens like other Canadians.[1] The White Paper was in the vein of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's vision of a "just society" in which all discriminatory legislation was repealed.[1] It stated that eliminating Indian status would “enable the Indian people to be free—free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians."[1]

Other key provisions included abolishing the Department of Indian Affairs within five years,[1] abolishing the reserve system,[2] and converting reserve land into private, sellable property owned by the band or Aboriginal landholders.[1] A $50 million fund for economic development was to be established to compensate for the termination of the treaties and the Indian Act,[1][2] and a commissioner would be appointed to investigate outstanding land claims and terminate treaties.[1] Finally, the white paper proposed transferring the jurisdiction for Aboriginal affairs from the federal government to the provinces and gradually integrating their services with the services provided to other Canadian citizens.[1]


Aboriginal peoples were not convinced by the white paper and felt that their concerns during the consultation process, such as recognition of special rights, were not addressed.[1] The white paper had no provisions to recognize and honour the special rights of Aboriginals and failed to deal with historical grievances such as Aboriginal title and treaty rights.[1] Meaningful Aboriginal participation in public policy making was also not covered in the white paper.[1]

Although the white paper recognized past policy failures by the federal government and the socio-economic situation of Aboriginal peoples, it was seen by many Aboriginal peoples as the latest in a series of attempts at cultural assimilation.[1] Aboriginal leaders were outraged that their demands for amendment of the Indian Act during the consultations had instead been largely ignored and met with a proposal for abolishment.[1]

One prominent critic of the white paper was Harold Cardinal, who referred to the white paper as "a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation" in his book, The Unjust Society, which attacked the premise that a society that treated its aboriginal population like Canada did could be considered "just".[1] Cardinal, the Cree leader of the Indian Association of Alberta, considered the white paper "passing the buck" to the provinces and led the association's 1970 rejection of the white paper in document titled Citizens Plus.[1] Citizens Plus, which was popularly known as the Red Paper, embodied the national Aboriginal stance on the White Paper its statement: “There is nothing more important than our treaties, our lands and the well-being of our future generations.”[1]

In November 1969, Rose Charlie of the Indian Homemakers' Association, Philip Paul of the Southern Vancouver Island Tribal Federation, and Don Moses of the North American Indian Brotherhood invited British Columbia band leaders to join them in Kamloops to build a response to the white paper.[1] Representative from 140 bands were present and formed the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) during the conference.[1] In 1970, UBCIC published A Declaration of Indian Rights: The B.C. Indian Position Paper, or the "Brown Paper", which rejected the white paper and asserted the continued existence of aboriginal title.[1]


By July 1970, facing widespread opposition from Aboriginal leaders, the federal government backed away from the recommendations of the White Paper.[2]

The 1973 Supreme Court of Canada case Calder v British Columbia finalized abandonment of the white paper by recognizing Aboriginal title in Canadian law.

On February 23, 2014, the Liberal Party of Canada at its biennial convention renounced with regret the White Paper of 1969 as a step towards reconciliation with Canada and with the Liberal Party of Canada.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac "The White Paper 1969". indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca. University of British Columbia. Retrieved 2015-12-04. 
  2. ^ a b c "Native Awakening". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved 2015-12-04. 
  3. ^ Beaulne-Stuebing, Laura (2014-02-21). "Why the Liberals' Aboriginal Commission wants a 'mea culpa' on the 1969 white paper". ipolitics.ca. Retrieved 2015-12-04. 

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